Thursday, February 4, 2010

Toward the Collapse

Is global warming unstoppable now? Could we be saved by total economic collapse? If so, should we help civilization fall?

It's another cheery edition of Radio Ecoshock, with your darkness at the end of the tunnel, Alex Smith. There are lots of links to our program content below.

Last night I recorded another glimpse of the climate apocalypse, with the author of "Climate Wars" Gwynne Dyer. He outlined the short distance from here to the cliff where long-known natural feed-backs leading to runaway global warming begin, and continue on for millennia. That limit is known as two degrees. Beyond that, great forests melt into fire, liberating their carbon. Beyond that, the Arctic permafrost melts, likely doubling atmospheric greenhouse gases. Five to seven degrees Centigrade of average global temperature rise. Utter disaster.

Dyer says world governments quickly agreed to the 2 degree limit at Copenhagen, without telling the public why. No need to panic the herd.

Dyer says we won't make it in time, before the big climate switch is pulled. You'll hear clips from that speech in an upcoming Ecoshock Show. I can't run the whole speech, because as usual, Gwynne is developing his new work toward another radio or TV program. I appreciate Gwynne sharing his "working notes" with our Radio Ecoshock audience. Kind of a sneak preview.

Find out more at
Here is info on the "Climate Wars" radio series.

... and the book.

Up early this morning, I tune into a climate science web cast from the Center for American Progress. Two top American IPCC scientists, trying not to say too much. Late in this program, I'll have a few clips and comments from that update, hosted by Joe Romm, of the blog

But we'll start out with a different sort of scientist. Cloud specialist Tim Garrett stepped in a few people's faces, when he proposed a formula about carbon and the world's wealth. Simply put, unless our economy collapses, to levels you and I would hate, climate change is unstoppable. Garrett bases his jarring statements on a basic law of physics, of thermodynamics.

Read the "Is Global Warming Unstoppable?" article here.

You won't need a science degree to understand our Radio Ecoshock interview.

Following Garrett, we dive deeper into the culture of despair. Keith Farnish is the author of "Time's Up, an uncivilized solution to a global crisis." I've put lots of Keith Farnish links below, including one to his online book.

Are you ready to become uncivilized?

If collapse is the best solution, would you help kick the system over? Or would you just watch it fall? Farnish has been called a terrorist, and a green realist. Your brain exercise for troubling times.

Let's start with the science of collapse.

[Garrett interview]

This is Radio Ecoshock, with Alex Smith. We've just heard Tim Garrett from the University of Utah - and let's take a quick review.

His paper is titled "Are there basic physical constraints on future
anthropogenic emissions of carbon dioxide?"

The basic thesis, tested against past industrial development, is that neither population nor standard of living have to be included in modeling prediction of climate change. Garrett concludes that civilization, as measured by gross domestic product, is directly related to the amount of carbon burned. More emissions, more wealth. Less emissions, less economic production.

Here is the exact description of the theory, from an abstract of Garrett's paper:

"Here, it is shown both theoretically and observationally how the evolution of the human system can be considered from a surprisingly simple thermodynamic perspective in which it is unnecessary to explicitly model two of the emissions drivers: population and standard of living. Specifically,
the human system grows through a self-perpetuating feedback loop in which the consumption rate of primary energy resources stays tied to the historical accumulation of global economic production—or p × g—through a time-independent factor of 9.7 ± 0.3 mW per inflation-adjusted 1990 US dollar."

By applying his formula, Garrett says it would take a new nuclear plant built every single day to keep up our current standard of living. As that isn't happening, and may be impossible, the only other solution is economic collapse. In our interview, Garrett suggests a horrible economic crash, which I imagine as diving perhaps to Medieval standards of life, is required just to reach 450 parts per million of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

In the conclusion of that paper we find, quote:

Viewed from this perspective, civilization evolves in a spontaneous feedback loop maintained only by energy consumption and incorporation of environmental matter.

Because the current state of the system, by nature, is tied to its unchangeable past, it looks unlikely that there will be any substantial near-term departure from recently observed acceleration in CO2 emission rates. For predictions over the longer term, however, what is required is thermodynamically based models for how rates of carbonization and energy efficiency evolve. To this end, these rates are almost certainly constrained by the size and availability of environmental resource

end quote.

Several science journalists picked up on the paper's underlying prediction: global warming is unstoppable, unless the economic system crashes. And that leads to our next guest. He agrees, and suggests it is our duty, all of us, to help the inevitable hard landing come sooner, rather than later. Why wait until Nature is totally used up, on a nearly dead planet?

[Keith Farnish]

Here are a bunch of links for Keith Farnish:

His blog.
Another blog ("unsuitablog")
Keith's book "Time's Up" (online version)

Web casts are proliferating, as various publishers and institutes slash travel costs. That's good for emissions, and a way to let more people into the virtual room. I attended two this week.

One was a re-assessment of Copenhagen, and the way forward, from the British publisher Earthscan.

There I met David Satterthwaite, our radio guest next week. His recent work on the realities of human settlement, slums, and western consumerism - fits in perfectly with the new Worldwatch 2010 State of the World Report. I interview that report's project director, Erik Assadourian, as we ask "Is it them, or is it us?" Next week, on Radio Ecoshock.

My second web cast was provided by the Center for American Progress, and hosted by uber-blogger Joe Romm. His spot really is the indispensable climate blog, as author and New York Times columnist Tom Friedman called it.

On the web cast, we got to hear from two top American scientists, who have helped organize IPCC reports: Dr. Michael MacCracken and Dr. Christopher Field. Dr. MacCracken has been a Radio Ecoshock guest.

I'm not going to lie to you. At time the web cast was timid to boring, as the two scientists were so careful about the limits of the IPCC process. You had to re-interpret wonk speak, to realize this Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is not really up to the task of warning the world about the real threat.

Why not? Let me count just a few reasons.

One: the whole pile of summaries, the things you, and I, and politicians actually read, must be agreed to, line-by-line, by each and every government in the world. That means, for example, Saudi Arabia, the giant oil producer who denies climate change, has to sign on. It's almost like having Dick Cheney approve everything the Obama administration does. Oh wait, it seems like that's happening in the Senate anyway.

Two: when incompetence, and possibly corruption in the case of grand-leader Pachauri show up, the IPCC has no agency to investigate, to correct the problem, or even to handle the press. Pachauri was involved with the unscientific and botched prediction about the Himalayan glaciers melting by 2030 - now shown to be contrary to the common knowledge of most glacier experts. A member of the team acknowledged they knew the information to be false.

Yet Pachauri helped get that wrong prediction into the report, and then personally profited from the panic by the Indian government. His company got fairly big money to find out more, about a problem with did not exist at the levels claimed.

It stinks of corruption, not a new idea at the United Nations. I've posted a list of Pachauri 's various businesses, and it's a long list, in my blog for this week. He should resign.

Here is an article which claims a direct conflict of interest for Dr. Pachauri , when it comes to carbon trading.

The same blog goes into detail about Pachauri 's business holdings and roles. It doesn't look good.

And let's not forget that Pachauri is essentially President George W. Bush's man. Bush objected to Robert Watson heading the IPCC, and pushed for Pachauri instead. Another very bad sign.

None of this was mentioned by the upright scientists at the American Progress web cast. They admit a major mistake was made, but don't criticize either the man, or the system that let him get away with it. Pitiful.

Three: there are a lot of things that science simply can't address, that matter a lot. For example, when the assembled scientists realized they didn't know how to predict Arctic ice melt, they just left that out of the calculations of sea level rise. So their prediction of a few millimeters rise by 2100 was laughable.

There's a lot more unknown unknowns, including public panic, climate wars, and climate trauma, and mass migration, just to name a few. Those demons are outside the realm of science, but definitely part of what we need to understand, or at least plan out with the best guesses.

Four: the IPCC is always 5 years behind current science. And why do we only report every five years, on a problem that suggests we only have ten years left to act, if that, before Nature takes over control of the greenhouse? We need a permanent climate war room, or rather a peace room.

Five: experience with past reports shows, the IPCC always underestimates both the urgency, and the severity of the impacts of climate disruption.

I run a couple of the best clips from the web cast, which you can see in full here.

In our first radio clip, Dr. Christopher Field echoes, almost exactly, the theory we heard in our first interview, with Tim Garrett. Carbon equals wealth.

Then Field adds to a list of climate change impacts, already begun by Michael MacCracken.

And finally, Dr. Michael MacCracken expands on everyone's nightmare, melting permafrost.

Still, it was a worthwhile web cast by the Center for American Progress, February 2nd, 2020. My thanks to Joe Romm, super-climate blogger at, for at least trying to keep it lively.

Most of the talk about the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the IPCC, was diplomatic - and disappointing.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and in fact the whole U.N. system for negotiations, isn't working. If anything, it's working against us.

Frankly, we need a new public body to measure and predict the climate threat in real time. Let scientists say what they can prove, without censorship from Saudi Arabia, George Bush, or whoever. Maybe it can all be built as a knowledge machine on the Internet. Heaven knows who will fund and control it. Maybe some billionaire will care enough about the future to fund it, and let it go, without strings. Maybe we can find a few honest women and men?

Something has to change, or we are toast.

Can the public stomach the awful truth? Or, will we go down in a sea of denial and business-as-usual?

It's almost to the point, where the danger to the world as we know it, might matter as much as the Toyota recall, or who won the Oscars. I know that's a big claim, but that's the way I see it.

I'm Alex Smith. Thanks for listening.

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